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IF PATRICK J. Buchanan considers the 1972 Nixon campaign - which featured dirty tricks, slush funds and obstruction of justice - "clean," we can't wait to see how he runs his own presidential campaign.

We recently wrote a column about Buchanan's past support of late FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and Buchanan's role as one of Richard Nixon's chief dirt-diggers during the 1972 campaign. The column apparently touched a raw nerve with the pundit-turned-presidential candidate, who bared his fangs at us last week in a letter to The Washington Post.Buchanan didn't dispute the primary point of our column: The GOP presidential candidate who says he wants to get the government off everyone's back once wrote glowing memos about Hoover, who abused his power to pursue vendettas and pry into the private lives of hundreds of prominent Americans.

As we reported earlier, Buchanan and fellow Nixon aide Ken Kashigian produced what they called the "Assault Book" - a sleazy encyclopedia of negative campaign strategies and damaging information about then-Sen. George McGovern, D-S.D., Nixon's opponent.

Perhaps the funniest part of Buchanan's letter to The Post was the fact that he cowered behind the Kennedy family for his defense. In our original story, we reported that Buchanan's career first crossed paths with Hoover's in the early 1960s, when Buchanan was a young editorial writer for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. It was one of several conservative papers being fed "smear" stories about the late Martin Luther King Jr.

The information was allegedly supplied by Hoover's snooping henchmen, whose surveillance and wiretaps of King sprang from Hoover's personal distrust of the civil rights leader. Some of this information was then used as fodder by Buchanan in anti-King editorials.

"Interesting I should be under fire today for writing about King's meetings with leftists," Buchanan responded, "when John F. Kennedy, his brother Robert and (President Lyndon B. Johnson) used these meetings as justification for wiretapping the late civil rights leader."

Is this the same Buchanan who's spent the better part of his public life pillorying the Kennedys? And isn't it absurd to hear this veteran of the Watergate scandal moralizing about the use of wiretaps?

Buchanan now says the information was given to him by his publisher, Richard H. Armberg, and that he initially hesitated in writing the editorials because he could not document the charges. Buchanan's mea culpa would have been included had he returned our phone calls.